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Jim Kenzie's Top 5 Detroit auto show surprises

Wheels writer Jim Kenzie gives the five things that most surprised him about the 2009 Detroit auto show.
Jim Kenzie

1) The mood of the show
As noted elsewhere, I expected everyone to be down, just like the industry and the entire economy. But despite the absence of a few big names (Nissan, Suzuki, Porsche, Ferrari) and an almost complete lack of glamourous show-bizzy intros, there was a lot of new and interesting product on display, and a belief that somehow, it will all come good. As a “glass-is-half-full” kinda guy myself, I welcomed that.

In photos: Kenzie’s Top 5 surprises

2) The 2010 Ford Taurus
I guess if I paid more attention to the pre-show press releases, I would have known this car was coming. But even then, I don’t think I would have guessed it would be as impressive-looking a piece as it is, nor that it would receive near-unanimous praise from my colleagues. None of us have driven it yet, but being based on the same platform as the well-regarded Lincoln MKS, it can hardly go too far wrong.

3) The Volkswagen Concept BlueSport
When’s the last time Volkswagen sold a convertible sports car? I’m not even sure it would qualify, but do we have to go back to the Karmann Ghia convertible from the early 1970s?

Whatever, let’s hope the Concept BlueSport is the next. Looking not totally unlike the Concept R roadster VW showed at Frankfurt in 2003, the BlueSport looks even more produceable. Technical details are sketchy, but it is powered by a clean-turbo diesel engine which Business Week magazine notes “makes a mockery’’ of Toyota’s new Prius hybrid, by squeaking out 54 miles per U.S. gallon (4.3 L/100 km) – better than the 50 miles per U.S. gallon promised by the new hybrid – while producing something like twice the horsepower. The challenges facing diesel – notably the cost of the fuel and of attacking emissions – are daunting, but this car shows great promise.

And if that doesn’t work, just stuff the GTI engine in there.

4) The Cadillac Converj
Essentially the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric car, due for release late next year, dipped in gold (more accurately, draped in a stunning, very Cadillac-like two-seat coupe body) this car suggests that even up-scale customers have an interest in saving fuel. Given that most hybrids are in fact bought by fairly well-off people (not necessarily to save money but to fly the environmental flag), they’re probably right on track here.

As with the VW BlueSport, if that doesn’t work, find a regular engine to stick in there – this thing is gorgeous.

5) The Volvo S60 concept
Volvo has been leaning against the high school gym wall for some time, waiting for someone to ask it to dance. Ford hung a For Sale sign on it some time ago, but so far no one has nibbled.

But those plucky Swedes are doing what all carmakers must keep doing – come up with interesting product.

The parallelogram rear doors which eliminate the central pillar of the body will surely not make it to production. But if the next-generation S60 sedan looks at all like this – and it will – it could turn the wallflower into the belle of the ball.

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